Any North Korean who wants to escape the country needs large measures of courage, determination, and luck. The only practical escape route is through China — across the Yalu or Tumen River.
Money obviously helps — to hire a guide to shepherd you across the river, or to bribe guards to look the other way. The bribery option is harder nowadays, though. Kim Jong Un, the young new dictator who took over after his father’s death last December, has issued a crackdown order, and border guards are afraid to disobey. North Koreans who cross the river to China can also be shot in the back by North Korean border guards.
It’s important to remember that the escape story doesn’t end when a North Korea reaches Chinese soil.
In China, a North Korean trades in one circle of hell for another. If he wants to be safe, if he wants to achieve freedom, the next step is to get out of China. He can’t do that on his own. He needs help to get out of China and then reach sanctuary in South Korea. That’s where the new underground railroad comes in.
–Hudson Institute senior fellow Melanie Kirkpatrick